Oral Legal Traditions of Gypsies
and Some American Equivalents
Walter O. Weyrauch
The significance of tribal law for comparative law is not commonly stressed. To the extent that comparisons remain on the level of legal cultures that are historically and politically closely allied to each other, even though they are in appearance “different, ” an element of unconscious ethnocentrism cannot be eliminated. We tend to compare legal cultures with whose reasoning and results one can identify. The closeness of the parallels, while full identity is missing, tends to be experienced as stimulating. Yet the occasional forays into legal cultures that are “radically different”1 may be more fascinating and jurisprudentially and even practically rewarding. This will become increasingly apparent as my discussion of Gypsy law and American equivalents proceeds. Indeed, as the extraordinary importance of oral legal traditions within American law is suggested, the distinction between the foreign and local may become blurred, as well as the separation of jurisprudence and legal practice. This journey will take us from the esoteric to questions of legal strategy that finally may gain a legitimate place within legal theory. Since essentially novel territory is explored, I present no firm conclusions, but mere guidelines for further research.
As an example of tribal autonomous lawmaking, Maureen A. Bell and I have examined Romaniya or Gypsy law.2 This having been the first study of Gypsy law
The author is indebted to Frank Allen, Gunther Arzt, Maureen Bell, Martha Duncan, Ian Hancock, Stanley Ingber, Joanna Kinney, Leslie Lieberman, Lynn LoPucki, Ronald Mann, Matilda Montgomery, Rosalie Sanderson, Paul Schwartz, and Robert Summers. Financial support of the University of Florida Summer Research Program is gratefully acknowledged.